General Election Autopsy

Sinn Fein Surge
Perhaps there is no constituency that highlights the level of the Sinn Fein surge as clearly as Wexford. Having lost his council seat in May, other politicians might have quietly slipped away from the political scene, but Johnny Mythen made the decision to continue and was rewarded with a resounding victory with over 18,000 votes and election on the first count.

The most optimistic of Sinn Fein supporters would have struggled to predict this result when Mythen received 7.58% of the vote in the local elections and lost his seat. A solid 10.3% in the by-election raised expectations slightly, but receiving almost 25% of the first preference vote must feel almost surreal for his long time supporters. To put this result into perspective, Mythen’s 18,717 votes is the highest first preference vote ever received by any candidate in a general election in Co.Wexford. His 24.9% also represents this highest % vote share since former Tanaiste Brendan Corish in 1965, who received 25.4%.

Business as usual for Howlin and Browne
Wexford has elected a Howlin and Browne combination since 1987. James has since taken the Browne reins from John, while Howlin remains ever-present. It is a testament to the regard in which they are held by voters, that they have been re-elected with little danger over the last 33 years.

Murphy Goes it Alone
Despite Fine Gael’s most successful candidate in the recent by-elections, Verona Murphy was cast aside by the party and subsequently decided to stand as an independent. This decision paid off as she claimed the 3rd seat after the 11th count. Despite being in 7th place after count 1, Murphy’s ‘transfer friendliness’ was the thing that set her apart from the chasing pack. Interestingly, the 7.8% first preference received by Murphy is the lowest ever received by an elected candidate in the history of the Wexford constituency. Having endured a turbulent by-election campaign, and been the subject of much unnecessary negative comment, Murphy ran a hands-on campaign, which involved an intense canvassing effort all around the county. Clearly many Wexford voters shared some of the concerns raised by Murphy during the course of her by-election campaign, and one hopes that in the echo-chamber of Irish politics, Murphy can provide an alternate independent voice.

Back to the drawing board for Fianna Fáil
Despite winning the largest share of first preference votes in both 2016 and 2020, Fianna Fáil has again failed to elect a second candidate in Co.Wexford. Their 4 candidate strategy raised many eyebrows, but the result was very similar to that of 2016 when a 3 candidate strategy was used. Fianna Fáil’s issue appears to be more complex than just candidate numbers. In fact, all bar 1.8% of their vote was centred on 3 candidates. To simply blame their inability to win a second seat on running 4 candidates would be too simplistic. Looking at Laois-Offaly, also a 5 seater where Fianna Fáil ran 4 candidates, you’ll see that two were comfortably elected.

Malcolm Byrne has now the unfortunate record of becoming the 2nd shortest-serving TD ever, behind hunger striker Kieran Doherty who was elected for the Cavan-Monaghan constituency in 1981. Doherty was elected 21 days into his hunger strike and died 52 days after his election. The unfortunate timing of the by-elections, combined with the controversial decision by the party to abstain on a vote of confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, meant that Byrne was one of the many casualties for his party this time around. Had they forced a general election in November, then perhaps they may have faired better, both in Wexford and across the country. It is a pity that Malcolm didn’t have a longer opportunity to display his potential as a TD for a longer period of time.

First timer Michael Sheehan, based in New Ross, should be reasonably pleased with his results but was realistically 2,000 votes short of having a real chance of a seat. Lisa McDonald polled at just 1.8% which represents the lowest first preference % of any Fianna Fáil candidate nationwide. Geography played a key role in the number of votes available to her, with neighbour Ger Carthy, Wexford town’s Brendan Howlin, Bridgetown teacher Jim Codd and Verona Murphy, all fighting for the same votes, she was left with an uphill task.

Paul ‘Lazarus’ Kehoe edges out D’Arcy once again
Despite going into the general election being quoted as odds against to win his seat, Paul Kehoe defied the odds to take the final seat in Co.Wexford ahead of Malcolm Byrne and Michael D’Arcy. From the moment the first count was complete, it was clear to see that there would be only one FG seat in Wexford this time. Since 2007 when they first ran together, results between FG duo Kehoe and D’Arcy have been very tight. Only 767 first preference votes separated the duo, with both winning the 4th and 5th seats respectively. Moving on to 2011, the margin was just 32 first preference votes in D’Arcy’s favour. However, after the 7th count, Kehoe was 636 votes ahead and won the 5th seat with D’Arcy losing out in 6th.

In 2016, we saw yet another close battle, with only one vote separating them after 12 counts. The elimination of Malcolm Byrne, saw D’Arcy take a seat while Kehoe prevailed by 52 votes over Johnny Mythen to take the final seat.

This year saw Kehoe take the final seat again. D’Arcy led the FG duel after count 1, by 135 votes, but thanks to being more ‘transfer-friendly’, Kehoe had pulled ahead of D’Arcy by count 8, due to higher transfers from Sheehan. When Ger Carthy’s transfers increased Kehoe’s lead, D’Arcy was eliminated, with Kehoe receiving a massive amount of D’Arcy’s transfers to catapult him clear of Malcolm Byrne, into 5th place, and to hold onto a seat he first won in 2002.

Having first been elected as a TD in 2007, Michael D’Arcy’s election results have followed a similar pattern to his father Michael D’Arcy Snr, who won his seat in 1977, lost it in 1987, won again in 1989, lost again in 1992, regained it in 1997, before finally losing it in 2002. D’Arcy Jnr won on his first attempt in 2007, lost his seat in 2011, regained it in 2016 before losing out in 2020. These results have shown the resilience, determination and ‘bouncebackability’ of the D’Arcy family, and no doubt Michael will continue to try to do his best for the people in his community going forward.

The current ‘lie of the land’
Following General Election 2020, Co.Wexford has three TD’s from the Enniscorthy district, one from the Wexford district and one from the New Ross district. The people of Gorey, for the last 4 years had at least one representative, while for the last two months they had two TD’s. However, both of those TD’s narrowly lost out, meaning for the first time ever, the Enniscorthy district has three Dáil representatives. It will be interesting to see how the spoils are divided up based on this reality.

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